Sunday, November 18, 2007

Crime and Punishment review

Crime and Punishment

November 07, 2007

By Christopher Murray

Chicago's Writers' Theatre brings its rightfully celebrated 2003 production of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment to 59E59 Theaters as part of the GoChicago! Festival. Distilling a 718-page Russian novel into a 90-minute theatre piece for three actors is quite a coup de théâtre in and of itself — the taut and vibrant adaptation is by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus — but that it makes for moving storytelling and bravura acting is something special.

Raskolnikov (Scott Parkinson), the intense and idealistic student who has taken his ideas about progress and potential to destructive extremes, enters through the same door as does the audience, signaling the relevance of this pre-revolution tale to our own time. The production plays out on Eugene Lee's simple plywood set of doors under the averted gaze of a life-size statue of Christ on the cross — signaling the transforming power of redemption — and the harsh downward flood of Keith Parham's six large lighting instruments that create the impression of a mechanized high noon. Theresa Squire's simple costume elements — a cap, a fringed shawl — economically signal shifts between characters.

The small-boned, blond-haired, red-bearded Parkinson is all tortured tics, wringing dirty hands, and wet, red-rimmed eyes. The actor was nominated for a Jefferson Award back home for his portrayal and well he should have been. In a tour de force performance in which he never leaves the stage, Parkinson powerfully conveys both the arrogance and enormous compassion of Raskolnikov. John Judd and Susan Bennett bring specificity and depth of feeling to their embodiment of several roles, including Raskolnikov's wily interrogator and Sonia, the poor daughter forced into prostitution. Bennett's wary, uncomprehending stare is particularly memorable.
Michael Halberstam's fine direction movingly calls the audience's attention to the hands of the actors as they reach out to each other for understanding and forgiveness.

Presented by Writers' Theatre as part of the GoChicago! Festival at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., NYC. Nov 7-Dec. 2. Tue.-Fri., 8:15 p.m.; Sat., 2:15 and 8:15 p.m.; Sun., 3:15 and 7:15 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentralcom.

Friday, November 16, 2007

William Finn Interview

Exposing Oneself for Musicals

Off-B’way revue celebrates lyricist/composer William Finn
Friday, November 16, 2007

William Finn, known for his richly emotional and idiosyncratic musicals, is a master at evoking both shocked guffaws and choked-up sobs from audiences. A new revue of songs by the composer/lyricist of the beloved “Falsettos” trilogy—about a gay male couple facing intimacy and AIDS—was presented two summers ago in Hartford, Conn., by Finn’s frequent director Rob Ruggiero, and the revue, titled “Make Me a Song,” is now at New World Stages. Five cast members make their way through more than 20 of Finn’s quirky, insightful songs.
Finn, 55, splits his time between the Upper West Side and a place in his home state of Massachusetts with his partner of over a quarter of a century, Arthur Salvadore. He’s riding high from the ongoing success of his latest Broadway show, the lighthearted “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” while plans are still murky concerning “The Royal Family of Broadway” a collaboration between Finn, playwright Richard Greenberg and director Jerry Zaks. He spoke about the new revue and the way in which his identity as a gay man shapes the stories he tells.
How did “Make Me a Song” come about?
[Director] Rob Ruggiero asked if I wanted a revue and I said, “Absolutely not!” Since he’s a dog with bone, he just did it. I saw it, and I loved it.Why do people respond so viscerally and emotionally to your work? I try to write from a place that demands a certain response. I can’t predict what that will be, but it’s a place I find interesting.

You’ve defined your writer’s voice as that of a “New York gay Jewish man.” How is your sexual orientation reflected in your work now, as opposed to when you were—what? 23—and wrote “In Trousers,” the first part of the “Falsettos” trilogy?
In order to find a voice, I used to read four or five poems of [gay New York School poet] Frank O’Hara. I liked his slangy, hip chatter. Then I’d forget that and find something in my voice. It’s a weird thing, finding a voice.

O’Hara was big on the idea that poetry should have the immediacy of an emergency midnight phone call between intimates. Your writing has that charge. Do you see your work in a gay literary tradition?
It starts for me with Walt Whitman. I used to musicalize him all the time. I welcome being included in that tradition. I always thought that theater music lyrics were very conservative and a little classical. They rarely referred to oneself; they rarely were about the writer. There was all this confessional poetry going on at that time—O’Hara and Robert Lowell, all these guys, exposing themselves. I thought it was time that started happening in the theater.

Much of your work has had grief and loss as a major part of its subject.
I don’t think most of my stuff is predicated on grief and loss. It’s predicated on what happens in life. Of course, with AIDS and as a gay man, that’s all I saw back then. The question was how could I find something life affirming? How can I write about this and not be Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm but also not say, “This is the end of our world”? That sort of nihilism doesn’t appeal to me.

Does it frustrate you that some people view you as a writer solely about grief?
It makes me a little crazy. It’s not how I see myself at all. It’s convenient for people to think of me that way, but it’s also a way to dismiss my work.

Which songwriters do you admire?
Apart from some of my wonderful students? I teach down at N.Y.U. and it’s funny, some classes are like gay bars, others are straight, straight, straight. Both have a lot to recommend them. I always liked Randy Newman and Paul Simon as songwriters. The Wainwright guy, that Rufus, I enjoy listening to him, too, but not because he’s gay, particularly, but because he has an open heart.

Do you ever blanch at the overlap between the intimate and the artistic?
I remember when I wrote “Whizzer Going Down,” a song about a guy giving a blowjob. Andre Bishop [artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater] thought it was about a guy going down to Florida. I thought, “This is the end of your non-existent career. How could you possible write this?” But I also thought. “Have a little balls.” Apart from the fact that a lot of people didn’t know it was about a blowjob, which makes it okay, I was looked at a little differently by some.

You’ve been with your partner more than 27 years. Do you find that unique in the gay male world?
Not at all. Lots of people have been together ridiculously long times.

Does it inform your work?
It must somehow. I don’t know how.

What’s one of your favorite things about the nexus of homosexuality and musical theater?
Just the fact that it exists.
“Make Me a Song,” at New World Stages, 340 W, 50th St, for more info and tickets, visit

Thursday, November 8, 2007

New York Blade article featuring Rainbow Heights Club

NYC Gays Twice as Depressed
For first time, city plan looks at LGBT mental health
By Dustin Fitzharris

Rates of depression among New York City’s LGBT community are nearly double that of its straight population, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH). The findings were noted in the DOH’s 2008 Local Government Plan for Mental Health Services, released Oct. 22. Although the information confirms what LGBT mental health experts have known for years, this marks the first time that the city health department included the LGBT population in its plan.
“Before last year, the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ never appeared at all in [the Government Plan for Mental Health Services],” said Christian Huygen, Ph.D., executive director for Rainbow Heights Club in Brooklyn, the only government-funded support and advocacy program that caters to the mental-health issues of LGBT patients.
Past DOH plans focused on the mental hygiene of the elderly and children as well as on various sub-categories, such as mental retardation, developmental disabilities and substance abuse. Upon evaluating its own Community Health Survey—a random telephone survey of 10,000 adult residents of New York City conducted in 2006—the DOH confirmed the rates of depression in LGBT individuals was nearly double the rate of depression compared to non-LGBT individuals. LGBT people were also more likely to benefit from mental health care. “It’s very difficult to live as a second-class citizen,” Huygen said in response to the data. “We are in a minority that is still OK [for others] to bash on many different levels. There is also the fact that we can’t marry the person of our own choosing. So it’s not surprising that would take a toll on our mental and emotional health.”
Christopher Murray, a counselor at The LGBT Community Center in the West Village, agrees. “LGBT people are at a greater risk for negative health outcomes,” said Murray who was worked at The LGBT Center’s mental health program for the past four years. “There are different factors that lead to that—homophobia, being at risk for HIV, being kicked out of your community, and being a target for different kinds of violence—all of these things swirled together can lead to folks being a greater risk.” A 2006 report titled “Living on the Edge: Gay Men, Depression and Risk Taking” by the Medius Institute, a gay men’s health group in New York City, found that 17 percent of participants had active symptoms of depression—twice the general population. In addition, that report noted that depressed gay men were at increased risk of having unsafe sex and using drugs.
The DOH also acknowledged last month that gay patients face daunting challenges in getting proper care. The Local Government Plan stated: “Recent studies indicate that many mental heath providers’ attitudes toward LGBT consumers are not always constructive or positive. The result is that many LGBT consumers, having entered treatment, leave prematurely.”
“Often, even today, therapists and psychiatrists think of LGBT persons as a traumatized or underdeveloped version of a heterosexual person,” Huygen said. “When clients go to their care providers and talk about LGBT issues, the care provider assumes being LGBT is what the client wants changed.”Disclosure can also cause a problem with LGBT individuals who seek treatment. Murray explains: “If a person isn’t comfortable; then he or she won’t disclose. If a physician is not comfortable with gay people, he or she won’t ask.”
With the recent acknowledgement, the DOH will make more treatment options available. The Rainbow Heights Club, with a grant from the New York Community Trust, has developed P.R.I.D.E. training (Promote Respect for Individual Differences through Education). The program offers a range of training programs with the goal of working collaboratively to help other organizations—health professionals, human resource departments, administrators—to create a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT patients and staff. “One of our major goals with our P.R.I.D.E. training,” Huygen said, “is to make sure people get that competent care, which the Local Government Plan now said is so important for them to get, within mainstream psychiatric centers and hospitals.”
Huygen says nearly everyone who comes to Rainbow Heights Club has at one time been hospitalized. Every year, the Rainbow Heights keeps 90 percent of those individuals out of the hospital and, in return, saves New York taxpayers a lot of money.“It’s unfortunate that aspects of our identity that we celebrate actually come with challenges that put us at greater risk,” Murray said. “We have to admit it and make sure there are services to help support people.”
Getting those services to the community takes funding. In the past, this was a burden that threatened to take away the very programs that were in place for treatment. “The Rainbow Heights Club almost shut its doors a couple years ago because of a funding crisis,” Murray said. “So, having the Department of Heath say, ‘Yes there are these disparities’ is going to be directly related to having a successful program like Rainbow Heights staying in existence and continuing to help people.”
For information on Rainbow Heights Club and The LGBT Center, visit and

Harlan Pruden Interview

(Harlan beading with the best of them.)

Two Spirits Better Than One


Native American activist Harlan Pruden can move instantly from a furious passion to heartfelt tears as he discusses the challenges of trying to educate people about the needs and struggles of members of his community who identify as two-spirit, or queer. He can spout off facts and figures about the risks for falling into alcoholism or drug addiction, a subject he can talk about from personal experience, having been sober for more than two decades and worked at the LGBT community Center to develop innovative programs for people in recovery.
But he can also discuss the history of treaty law and how Papal Bulls from hundreds of years ago are still invoked to encroach on native rights today.

As co-founder of the NorthEast Two-Spirit Society (NE2SS) here in New York City and a board member of the homo-friendly American Indian Community House, Pruden, 40, has made it his mission to sound the call of alarm for the dangers of crystal meth addiction for two-spirit Indians and the Native American population across the country.
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: Please explain what two-spirit means to Native Americans.
HARLAN PRUDEN: Two-Spirit is a contemporary term that connects today's experience with the traditions from within our cultures. Certain individuals were considered to have a specific blessing through their diversity, which was manifested in many cultural responsibilities. The modern connection with LGBT Indians is that traditionally these people often had sex with members of what the Western world considers the same gender. Of course, each tradition that prescribed to it had its own word in their language. In my Cree language, I'd be known as an aayahkwew - this should not be mistaken as a sexual orientation but rather a separate and distinct gender not necessarily related tosexuality or sexual genitals.

CM: What role have two-spirit folk traditionally played in native communities?
HP: In many traditions, two-spirit people served their community as mediators, social workers, craftspeople, name-givers, shamans and/or medicine-givers. These roles were something that only a two-spirit person could fulfill - that's why they were viewed as another gender.I find it very interesting that this tradition came into being for a number of reasons. It is an obvious manifestation of native peoples' practice of preserving and considering diversity sacred. For many [native] nations there was always room at the table for everyone - it was the belief that differences were a strength and were needed for the community to thrive. The other major distinction for today's world was indigenous people viewed everyone as equal. Therefore, it was not a threat or unusual for a male to act like a female or a female to act like a male or in any manner on a broad spectrum.

CM: Is that still the case now?
HP: I wish I could say that it was that way today! One of first things the colonizers did when they got to this land was to attack and kill the people that didn't conform to their rigid two-gender system. There is a famous lithograph in the New York City public library depicting two-spirit people being ripped apart by the conquistador, Vasco Nunez de Balboa's dogs - all done of course in the name of Christianity.
CM: What's the big event on November 15?
HP: November is National Native American Heritage Month, and NE2SS is hosting a community forum to increase the visibility of the Native American community that will examine the topics of gender, sexuality, and our elders. Heavy on the elder stuff - 'cause we are all going to be old one day! We Native Americans have a well-defined and working elder system. At the forum we are going to share some of the inner workings of that system, for we believe that the LGBT community has much to learn about the treatment of older people.

CM: What don't most gay people realize about two-spirit people?
HP: The name itself is somewhat misleading and confusing. Two-Spirit was agreed upon when the movement was revitalized in the early 1990s. Even then it was considered imperfect but we were searching for something that connected us to our cultural tradition, while still acknowledging the contemporary differences as a result of being LGBT peoples. The importance to today is not so much the idea of two spirits within one person - I think we all have that to some extent - but rather that there is a diversity amongst community members, that that diversity is a valuable and respected thing.

CM: When you look at issues like HIV/AIDS or crystal meth addiction in the native community, and compare the need to address them to other issues, like drug and alcohol abuse or native rights, reparations or possible genocide, how can you possibly prioritize advocacy and community organizing projects?
HP: You don't. That's why the idea of constant vigilance and self-discipline is critical in serving your community. You are responsible. You would never hear a native person following tradition say, "Oh, that's not my job." I hear that all the time here in New York and go kind of crazy. Of course it's your job. It's everybody's job. That being said though, it goes back to that respect for diversity. Each of us has a special gift. The community will help you discover that gift and then those are the issues or responsibilities that one pursues.For example, my interests are focused around community organizing and building alliances. So, with NE2SS, that's what I do. Other members aren't even interested in the more political aspects of our work. But they are interested in music or art or theater and that is considered as important as anything else. Diversity, diversity, diversity. It all boils down to that. Nonetheless, our work does suffer from an absence of resources and pure numbers of people facing some of the most overwhelming issues. We are the poorest people in North America and many of our reservations have the same statistics today on poverty and marginalization that existed in the townships of apartheid South Africa. We receive only about .003 percent of philanthropic grants for community work. Because of the sheer magnitude of the genocide committed by Euro-Americans against our people, it is easier to pretend we don't exist than to actually examine the issue.

CM: How do you think being Canadian Indian and a gay man has shaped your perspective and your relationships in the gay community?
HP: Being Cree and gay - while growing up was at times very difficult - has proven to be one of the best gifts bestowed upon me. For at my core I have always felt like an outsider. Being an outsider has its benefits for critiquing and challenging preconceived notions of the dominant society. I think that in the LGBT fight for equality, many LGBT, non-native people forget to ask critical question of "Equal to what?" If we are fighting to be a white-male dominated oppressive movement where money talks and we are all straight-acting and we want to get married - you can keep that equality - for that system has not been kind to my people for the past 515 years!

CM: What does the two-spirit community need from the greater LGBT community?
HP: First of all, an acknowledgment that we exist - and not for just one week or one month a year. According to the US Census, New York City is home of the largest population urban Indians in the country, if we were a reservation we'd be the third largest in the country.Next, we need to always be at the table. You need to learn about our differences and respect them. Last month, a very important survey on LGBT issues was being distributed by a well-known community program with whom we have worked for many years. Nonetheless, they left out any reference to "two-spirit" or "Native American" in the little boxes you check in those things. It's kind of astounding.But I think the most important thing that any community or movement can learn from us is to respect the diversity - again! We don't always see that even in the LGBT and/or other people of color movements and it is critical to our survival. We know all about assimilation. White people have been trying to assimilate us since the 19th century. "Kill the Indian, save the man" was a popular phrase amongst 19th century progressives. Melting pots and assimilation are not good. We want the greater LGBT community to recognize and respect that is not only what we believe but also how we will act.

CM: Are all gay Indians as sexy as you?
HP: Because we are so diverse; we are all very sexy!

"Gender, Sexuality and the Role of Elders" will take place Thursday, November 15 from 6-8 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street. For more information, go to .

©GayCityNews 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Turn of the Screw
November 05, 2007
By Christopher Murray
"I'm rather easily carried away, I fear," says the nameless governess in the Wake Up, Marconi! production of Turn of the Screw, Henry James' classic ghost story, here in a clever two-actor adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher originally presented by Portland Stage. Both actors — the attentive, prim, and expectant Melissa Pinsly as the governess and the cadaverous and chameleonlike Steve Cook in a host of roles — are disciplined and intelligent in their portrayals but, alas, don't ever really get carried away themselves.
And Don K. Williams' fine-tuned direction in conjunction with Mark Delancy's sparse raked-platform set and Karl Chmielewski's elegant and economical lighting can't do by themselves what is the sine qua non of a ghost story: raise hackles on the back of your neck.
The story of a governess, barely more than a child herself, sent to a lonely estate to take care of two precocious children is well-known for it's exploration of innocence betrayed by craven carnality. Who is actually corrupted in the tale is part of the theme as James explores the trauma of moving into the haunting knowledge of adulthood with all its potential for depravity.
There have been plenty of adaptations, including the 1954 Benjamin Britten-Myfanwy Piper opera and the 1961 Truman Capote-William Archibald-John Mortimer screenplay for director Jack Clayton's The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr. Hatcher's relies heavily on the audience's ability to empathize with the terror of the governess and her intense drive to protect her charges from supernatural enmity.
It also requires the actor playing all the other roles — a housemaid; the little boy, Miles; the uncle; and the narrator — to switch characters instantaneously and recognizably, which Cook does well.But, ultimately, the precision of this production leaves little room for the inexplicable and, as the governess says — and it applies to audiences as well — "What children want is a mystery."

Presented by Wake Up, Marconi! at Bank Street Theatre, 55 Bank St., NYC. Nov. 3-17. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Additional performance Sat., Nov. 17, 2 p.m.) (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Drum of the Waves of Horikawa

October 27, 2007

By Christopher Murray

There's a real feast for the senses going on at Here, where the Theatre of a Two-headed Calf is presenting its punk Kabuki version of Monzaemon Chikamatsu's 17th-century revenge play Drum of the Waves of Horikawa. A 12-feet-by-12-feet mat defines the central playing space (designed by Peter Ksander), cordoned off by plungers acting as stanchions and hung with decapitated brooms. On either side are two drum sets; there are also a DJ booth and a keyboard for composer Brendan Connelly, who spends a lot of time whacking a horseshoe with a spike and acts as an ironic and laid-back master of ceremonies. "The next break will be more of a party. Is my mother back?" he asks the audience as he announces the end of one of the short intermissions.

Winsome touches define the visual elements of director Brooke O'Harra's production, including the wonderful blend of traditional Japanese apparel and makeup with the leather, boots, and more-is-better war paint of 1970s punk (costume design by Emily Rebholz) and a great variety of practical and scenic lighting instruments (designed by Justin Townsend with assistance from Christopher Kuhl).

It's unfortunate, though, that while the eyes are delighted, the ears are beat into senselessness by the crashing eponymous noise generated, oddly enough, by two Ph.D. candidates (Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg on drums). Maybe it's my 40-year-old ears that don't have tolerance for the conceit of using punk mannerisms to tell an old tale of the dishonor of infidelity. It's not that I don't get the idea that punk thrashing and shouting could be just as stylized and ritualized as the grimaces and contortions of traditional Kabuki performance. It's more that I couldn't connect to a story whose emotional core was buried under layers of pretentiousness posing as intellectual theatricality.

Presented by the Theatre of the Two-headed Calf and Here Arts Center
at Here Arts Center, 145 Sixth Ave., NYC.

Oct. 27-Nov. 17. Thu.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or or

Gay in the Age of Paranoia

Celebrated gay author Christopher Bram's critically acclaimed last novel "Exiles in America" comes out in paperback November 13, quite an achievement for a literary-quality, queer-themed book.
Bram, who lives in the West Village with his long-time partner, the filmmaker Draper Shreeve, is no stranger to success. His first novel, the coming out story "Surprising Myself" (1987) wowed critics and his novel "Father of Frankenstein" (1995) was made into the film "Gods and Monsters," starring Ian MacKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Lynn Redgrave and for which director Bill Condon won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.
Bram tells compelling stories about complicated queer lives with rare intelligence, wit, and compassion. "Exiles in America" explores the relationship of a gay male couple, a college art professor and a psychiatrist, whose lives are turned on end by their blooming friendship with a charismatic Iranian painter and his wife. The story, in part, explores post-9/11 paranoia, justified and not, and is as well a critical examination of the suitability and meaning of the marriage paradigm in the context of a gay relationship.Bram sat down recently to discuss the book and how queer stories are catching up with cultural and political events.
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: How did the story evolve for you? What compelled you to write it?

CHRISTOPHER BRAM: Initially I just wanted to write a novel about a gay couple in a long-term relationship. It's surprising how few novels there are about gay marriages. Most gay fiction is about first love or doomed love, not domestic love.Early on I decided to give my couple an open marriage, in part because nobody writes about that either, but also because it would guarantee some kind of drama. Then I added another couple, an Iranian family with children. They too have an open marriage, necessitated by the fact that the husband, Abbas, a painter, is primarily gay.And I set it the eve of the Iraq War, which was when I wrote the book. I knew something would happen in the Middle East, but didn't know exactly what. After that I just let my characters loose, all the while looking over my shoulder at current events.
CM: Why did you choose to write about a cross-sexuality, cross-cultural love quadrangle?
CB: I always enjoy mixing things up. I've done it in all my books. Whether bisexuality really exists or not -- and I think it does - it's a gift for a novelist. It complicates things wonderfully. Homosexuality is a gift for fiction, too. It brings together different classes, nationalities, religions. The cross-cultural mix here enabled me to explore Islam, which intrigued me long before 9/11 made it important to more Americans. And since Abbas is married, I was given a major female character to develop, his wife Elena. One frustrating thing about gay male stories is the limited number of roles for women. But bisexuality changes that. Elena was the character I most enjoyed writing. She's more aware than the other protagonists, the one in the trickiest position. And she will say almost anything; she is fearless.
CM: Do you get hot and bothered writing sex scenes like the ones in "Exiles in America"?
CB: Not really, strange to say. I enjoy writing sex scenes. I'm certainly not afraid of them. I hope readers get hot and bothered. But for me sex in fiction is always about emotion, even if it's just friendliness. Something personal is being expressed, otherwise I'd skip a line and say, "Afterwards they smoked cigarettes."Daniel and Abbas begin as fuck buddies but the relationship becomes more emotionally complicated. So I had to make clear how important sex was to both men without giving a full catalog of their encounters. And I needed to find fresh metaphors and ways of describing sex, which is difficult after nine novels. I don't like to repeat myself. But I enjoy the challenge.
CM: What was the original reception to the book like?
CB: Pretty good, for the most part. It won this year's Ferro-Grumley Prize. Gay men in couples certainly appreciated it. As one friend put it, "My god, a gay novel where the couple argues and it doesn't mean they're doomed?" And many reviewers understood the mix of sex and politics and why it was there. But I also got some of the strangest reviews I've ever had. A couple of critics, presumably single, couldn't understand why Zack and Daniel were still together.Yes, they share a house and a dog and endless conversations, but they don't share a bed anymore after 20-plus years, so they must not be a real couple. More troubling were the reviewers who couldn't understand why the police and politics suddenly appear in the story. They blamed me, as if it were something I did just to juice things up. I don't know if they don't follow the news or if they wanted to hear only about boyfriend problems, but they resented the story for acknowledging that people's liberties are at risk in this country.I thought readers would be impressed that here was a novel about gay open marriage and the Homeland Security Act.
CM: I hear you and your partner the filmmaker Draper Shreeve are working on screenplays together too. What's up with that?
CB: Ever since we met we've talked about movies -- it's one of our great bonds. We even made a couple of short films. He would direct and photograph and edit. I would write and act and even serve as script girl.Then we started writing feature screenplays together, which can be tricky but not as dangerous as you might think. We learned how we work best together. And it's a great thing to share. Some couples raise children together, others renovate houses. We write screenplays. None have been filmed yet, but one was optioned and a new one was commissioned, so we sometimes make money from it.
CM: What are you working on now?
CB: Draper and I finished a new draft of a script about Tallulah Bankhead, which is being developed for Patricia Clarkson. There's also a kinky romantic comedy we're working on together. Meanwhile I've made a solid start on a new novel set in the 1880s, all about a theater troupe that comes to a factory town in Pennsylvania and becomes involved with the family of the Presbyterian minister. It's like a Victorian companion piece to my New York theater novel, "Lives of the Circus Animals."
CM: How do you avoid the trap of being pigeonholed as a "gay" writer for a limited audience?
CB: I don't. I can't. The culture we live in, book culture in particular, is so nervously heterosexist that the presence of a major gay character will almost always peg your book as gay. The fact that I try to mix things up more than Edmund White or Andrew Holleran, say, doesn't mean I don't get lumped with them. David Leavitt and Michael Cunningham both recently published novels with no sexually active gay men, but their books are still seen as gay novels. Which wouldn't be bad if it didn't mean we were treated as completely "other" and of interest only to a limited audience.I don't know what we can do about it. It's frustrating that 38 years after Stonewall we're still seen as exotic. Which might be one of the reasons for the strange reviews of "Exiles." "Hey, this is a gay novel. Why is he bringing in the war in Iraq?" As if we're too exotic to care about the important issues that trouble everyone else.
CM: What's one of the best things about being a gay writer?
CB: I'm tempted to be sarcastic and say, "The millions and millions of gay dollars." But the best thing about being a gay writer is gay readers, who are often very smart and very committed. I wish there were more of them. But they're a kind of compensation for being pigeonholed or ignored by straight readers. Real gay readers read steadily and hungrily, and not just the bestsellers or the big name books. They are very curious, and always looking for something new.
CM: How are the stories we are telling about gay lives changing these days?
CB: We don't have to do Homosexuality 101 anymore, so we are free to tell any kind of story we want. The writers, editors, and readers all want something new. Despite my complaints about the state of gay fiction -- and I complain as much as anyone -- there is always a new book that surprises me with news I haven't heard before.For example, last year there was a very fine novel by Aaron Hamburger, "Faith for Beginners," about a mother and her gay son visiting Israel on the eve of the Second Intifada. It had everything: family, politics, religion, sex with a Palestinian. There was also a terrific novel by John Weir, "What I Did Wrong," a sort of weekend-in-the-life account of a gay English teacher in Queens; it deserves to be compared with the best of Saul Bellow. This year there was a wonderful novel by Brian Malloy, "Brendan Wolf," about a gay man who becomes involved in the scamming of an anti-abortion rally in Minneapolis. It starts as a noirish story, but opens up into something bigger and richer.That's only three books, but should make clear that our best work is now all over the map, which is very exciting.
CM: If you could have sex with one famous writer of the past, who would it be and why?
CB: This week I would have to say Leo Tolstoy. I'm re-reading "Anna Karenina" and have fallen in love with the author all over again. Tolstoy was basically straight, of course, although he admits in his diaries to having warm feelings for men but not knowing what to do with those feelings. It'd be interesting to share a bed with him, especially in his late 30s, around the time he was writing "War and Peace." I don't know if we'd actually have sex. But it'd be fun to see him in a nightshirt -- I understand he had great legs -- and we could have good long conversations about religion and history and harvesting wheat, although he'd probably do most of the talking.

©GayCityNews 2007